With the British General Election having produced a hung parliament our political leaders are in the unusual position of having to try and strike a deal to form a government. As most facilitators will tell you, getting a disparate group to reach a consensus on how to tackle an issue or to agree a joint way forward is one of the most demanding parts of the job.

So what approaches seem to work? Here’s some ideas

  • Go off site – getting away from the office takes some of the pressure off the participants and I think it makes people more receptive to the ideas of others.
  • Ensure there are no leaks – we all know the power of the grapevine so make it clear that participants are only contactable in life or death situations. Let those back at the office know that participants will ring in at lunctime, routine things can wait till then.
  • Establish a clear aim for the meeting and ensure that everyone is agreed on it. If there are differing views look for an area that all parties want to address and start with this.
  • Have clear ground rules – ensure confidentiality is respected, let everyone have a turn to speak uninterrupted, behave in a respectful way towards each other. No side conversations under any circumstances! Minimise distractions by ensuring mobile devices and laptops are turned off – the world will not stop turning!
  • This is intense work so plan in regular breaks. Give each group it’s own space so they can let off steam and discuss issues amongst themselves. If you are at a hotel or conference centre encourage people to go outside at breaks, a change of scenary can put things into prespective.
  • Start by looking for areas of agreement, write them on the flipchart and display them round the room. This illustrates the progress that has been made and starts to show how they can work together
  • Look at the size of the gap for the remaining issues and put them in order to discuss, starting with the issue with the smallest gap.  Get each side to develop their thinking on the issue and look for areas of common ground.
  • If one side starts disagreeing amongst themselves suggest there is a break so they can have a discussion alone to clarify their stance.
  • Work through the issues leaving the most contentious to the last. Give participants some tools to look at the effects of a change, such as forcefield analysis. Brainstorming can be a useful technique to stimulate new ideas
  • Accept that this is a process that can’t be rushed but try and keep things moving.
  • If a communication is to be sent out at the end of the process ensure that it is agreed by all sides

What techniques do you use when trying to get a group to reach a consensus? What tips would you pass on to others?

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